Keynote remarks of Michelle Bachelet at Rio+20 Corporate Sustainability Forum, Gender Equality for Sustainability session

Date: Monday, June 18, 2012

Keynote Remarks of Michelle Bachelet at Rio+20 Corporate Sustainability Forum, Gender Equality for Sustainability Session. Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, June 18, 2012.

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Thank you. I thank Georg Kell and our partners in the UN Global Compact for bringing the private sector in this important Corporate Sustainability Forum.

There is no longer any doubt that gender equality and the empowerment of women are fundamental to sustainable development. Solving our most pressing challenges requires our collective intelligence and wisdom. Given climate change, rising inequality and economic uncertainty, we need environmental protection, social equality and inclusive economic growth. And this requires women's full participation.

To frame this session we are asking everyone, “Why is gender and sustainability important to me?

Let me respond: My business takes me from the halls of power to dwellings that have never seen power. One of five people—more than 1.3 billion of us—still lack access to electricity.

Some 2.7 billion rely on open fires and traditional use of biomass—of wood, coal, charcoal and dung, for cooking. Of the two million annual deaths attributed to indoor air pollution from cookstoves, 85 percent are women and children.

As a parent and grandparent I have to wonder how and what we are leaving to those we love, to those whose lives we are supposed to guide, instruct and inspire. What will be our legacy?

The Tellus Institute says it clearly: “Business will play a pivotal role in meeting the sustainability challenges of the 21st century. And no wonder, since every aspect of the sustainability agenda overlaps with core business and vital industries: energy, agriculture and water, mining and manufacturing, every consumer item, its packaging, transport and disposal.

Just to make the connection crystal clear: in developing countries 43 percent of the agricultural workforce is women. Yet, women do not have equal access to land ownership, agricultural services and productive assets, limiting their output and potential and holding back progress for food security for a growing population. Giving women the same access as men to seeds, fertilizers and tools could increase national agricultural output by up to 4 percent and reduce hunger by 100 to 150 million people.

As businesses look to increase industrial food production, the potential for displacement, deeper feminization of poverty and conflict spikes. So the question arises: How will we manage these conflicting interests within the ‘sustainability' framework?

Sustainable practices hold the power to transform these lives and communities—but will they?

I want to issue a two-fold challenge: The first, addresses you as a ‘personal' stakeholder because when one has a personal stake the level of passion, commitment and empathy is transformative.

So first, I encourage you to take that passion and commitment public. Partner with us to realize the Sustainable Development Goals.

Second, Drive gender equality and sustainability throughout your business, from the board to factory floor, throughout the supply chain and in the communities where you do business—the Women's Empowerment Principles provide a comprehensive guide forward.

Measure and make public reporting on gender and sustainability a hallmark of your efforts at every level. Encourage your peers to follow your lead.

Use every International Women's Day to send the message and gather stakeholders to discuss, revise and redouble efforts for women's empowerment and equality.

As the International Institute for Sustainable Development reports: “…sustainability is more than mere window-dressing. By adopting sustainable practices, companies can gain a competitive edge.

I thank you for making equality your business.

I wish you a very productive meeting.